Excited racetrack operators in New Jersey were dealt a blow today when news broke that I'll Have Another was scratched from the Belmont Stakes, dashing the prospect of horseracing's first Triple Crown winner in decades.
"I can tell you that this is depressing news, obviously," said Michael Newlin, general manager of the Meadowlands Racetrack, in an e-mail this afternoon. "Everyone in the horse industry was hoping to witness history tomorrow."
Following I'll Have Another's win at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes — the first two legs of the Triple Crown — Newlin and other Garden State track operators said the horse had created buzz for an industry in desperate need of a turnaround. But in an interview today on the "Dan Patrick Show," a day before the third race, trainer Doug O'Neill said the thoroughbred had an injury that would prevent him from ever racing again.
Reacting to the news, Monmouth Park spokesman John Heims said it was "sad that racing won't have the opportunity for even an attempt at making this type of history." But he also said, "it's still the Belmont Stakes," meaning there will still be plenty of enthusiasm at the track.
Heims added that there were no guarantees that a Triple Crown bid would help attendance and betting at Monmouth, even though "you always hope for a spike."
"When we look back over time, our attendance didn't spike when there was a Triple Crown on the line," Heims said, citing the most recent year, in 2008.
Managers at the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park have touted slow but steady gains in interest since the state turned the tracks over to the private operators. Jeff Gural, chairman of New Meadowlands Racetrack LLC, said this week that on-track attendance on June 2 exceeded 4,000 for the first time this year, outside of the Kentucky Derby.
"While this may not sound great, especially since 30 years ago crowds of 25,000 or more were the norm on a Saturday night, the fact is that on the same Saturday last year our attendance was under 3,000," Gural said in a statement posted on the track's website.
Maureen Bugdon, president of Atlantic City Race Course, in Hamilton Township, said the loss would sap some interest from an event that is popular nonetheless. But she also said it would generate new enthusiasm from a betting standpoint, especially among “our hardcore fans and the real experienced handicappers.”
“While they’re disappointed from historical perspective, I think they’re a little more excited at the challenges now, without I’ll Have Another in the race,” Bugdon said. “But certainly our staff and most of the people at the facility today are saddened. Everybody was looking forward to having another Triple Crown in their lifetime, quite frankly.”